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    Published on: January 27, 2022

    Content Guy's Note:  In advance of the National Grocers Association Show in Las Vegas, February 27-March 1, Stephanie Stuckey - CEO of the company that bears her family's name - gave me a preview of some of the themes she will be exploring in two different sessions.  Plus, we had an extended conversation about the importance of family control when setting priorities … the importance of some significant business pivots during the pandemic … and why it is important to expose some of the "myths of the girl boss" (and embrace others).

    You can find out more about the NGA Show here.

    If you want to listen to this video as an audio podcast, click below.

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that "a group of Inc. workers pushing to unionize a large company warehouse in New York won enough support to hold an election … Supporters of the nascent union, which calls itself the Amazon Labor Union, met the requirement for such a vote, the NLRB said Wednesday, which typically requires signatures from 30% of eligible employees at a facility. Organizers are aiming to unionize thousands of employees at a company warehouse in Staten Island."

    Union proponents withdrew their first petition last year after it did not achieve the necessary support.  Now, they say, they have more than 2,500 signatures; Amazon says that the facility has some 6,000 workers.

    The Journal says that it "is skeptical that the union has obtained enough legitimate signatures and is seeking to understand how the signatures were verified."

    Amazon also is facing a union election at a facility in Bessemer, Alabama, where the NLRB "found the company violated labor law during an election held at the site a year ago, a charge Amazon has denied," the Journal writes.  "The NLRB this month said the new election will be held by mail, with ballots being sent to employees on Feb. 4. Voters will have almost two months to submit their ballots, with the vote count scheduled to start March 28."

    KC's View:

    It seems inevitable that Amazon is going to lose one of these elections, and then the dam is going to break … with a lot more elections and a lot more cases where Amazon employees decide to unionize.  

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop is partnering with a Boston-based nonprofit called About Fresh on a program that will allow eligible customers to use a prescription to buy healthy food.

    Here's how it works, according to the Stop & Shop announcement:

    "Through About Fresh’s 'Fresh Connect' program, participants can use prepaid debit cards ‘prescribed’ by healthcare providers to purchase healthy food …  With prepaid debit cards funded by healthcare organizations and a HIPAA-compliant platform, Fresh Connect’s produce as a prescription program empowers patients who are experiencing food insecurity with the money, convenience, and agency to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables that can help improve their overall health and wellbeing. By working with Stop & Shop, hundreds of Fresh Connect participants can now easily shop for fresh fruits and vegetables at their local store, swipe the prepaid debit card at check out, and it will automatically deduct the cost of the produce from the total purchase price."

    The announcement notes that "Fresh Connect’s debit cards for qualifying individuals and families are primarily funded by major healthcare institutions like Brigham Medicaid ACO and Brigham Women’s Faulkner Hospital, and Boston Medical Center."

    “Increasing access to fresh and healthy foods for those facing food insecurity remains a top priority for us when it comes to caring for our communities,” said Gordon Reid, President of Stop & Shop. “With food insecurity continuing to impact the neighborhoods that Stop & Shop serves at an overwhelming rate, we’re proud to come together with About Fresh to ensure that even more people can access fresh, high-quality foods that support their wellbeing.”

    KC's View:

    The argument here for years has been that food retailers ought to do a better job of drawing a thick connective line between food and health … and this program fascinates me.  Why shouldn't medical professions be able to prescribe food, especially for people of limited means who are food insecure?  It makes all kinds of sense.

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    CNBC reports that Ocado - which power robotic warehouses being opened around the country by Kroger, as well as for other European grocers - yesterday announced new products designed to help "large grocery chains take on Amazon and a wave of new rapid grocery delivery start-ups."

    According to the story, "The first is its 600 Series bot, which Ocado said is lighter and more energy-efficient than its predecessor, with over half of its parts 3D printed.

    "The second is a set of advanced robotic arms that pick items directly off the grid in the company’s warehouses. Ocado says it’s developed artificial intelligence technology to enhance the precision of the arms to something closer to that of human pickers.

    "Meanwhile, Ocado also touted what it calls a 'virtual distribution center' - essentially a combination of software smarts and small micro-fulfillment centers connected through one system. Ocado said the offering would maximize capacity of items in each warehouse while also slashing delivery times."

    The CNBC story points out that "while Ocado is most well known for its online supermarket, a top focus for the company is robotics and automation tools that it deploys in warehouses to pick and pack items and prepare them for delivery."

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that "the Seattle City Council voted Tuesday to strike down an effort to end the city's ordinance requiring large grocers to pay frontline workers an extra $4 an hour during the pandemic."

    The Journal explains:

    "The city has required large grocery store chains to pay workers an extra $4 an hour since January 2021. In December, the City Council voted 8-0 to set an end date for the temporary requirement, but that ordinance was quickly vetoed by former outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan, as the Omicron variant was taking root in the region.

    "On Tuesday, the council voted 5-2 to uphold Durkan's veto, with newly elected Councilmember Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen casting the lone votes to override Durkan's decision.

    "Since its adoption, grocery store chains and associations have lobbied the city to do away with its hazard pay ordinance, threatening that higher wages would cause store closures and higher prices."

    KC's View:

    I have been against the concept of mandated hazard pay from the very beginning.  Not that front line workers didn't deserve it, but the idea that local governments would single out one segment of business to mandate what essentially are substantially higher minimum wages than anywhere else strikes me as wrong on a number of levels.

    In fact, I think you could argue that these mandated hazard pay rules could be holding down organic pay hikes that might've taken place anyway, and that would've been more sustainable.

    The idea that Seattle still has these mandates, and is actively rejecting their repeal, seems absurd.

    It also will feed a different narrative - that some retailers will look to automate functions that used to be handled by employees as a way of cutting costs.  Computers don't get hazard pay.  (At least, not yet.)

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The United States to this point has had 74,176,403 total cases of Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 898,680 deaths and 45,421,318 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 363,723,366 cases, with 5,647,515 resultant fatalities and 287,888,864 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.8 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, 63.5 percent has been fully vaccinated, and 40.4 percent has received a vaccine booster dose.  The CDC also says that 51.8 percent of the eligible US population has not received a vaccine booster shot.

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "Amazon settled a price-fixing investigation by the Washington State attorney general’s office on Wednesday, agreeing to pay $2.25 million and end a program that gave it control over the prices of products supplied by third-party sellers on its marketplace.

    "The suit focused on a program that the Seattle-based company started in 2018 to let sellers use its pricing algorithm. Called Sold by Amazon, the program guaranteed sellers a minimum price while offering a potential upside if the algorithm determined that customers were willing to pay more.

    "The attorney general’s complaint said the algorithm had harmed consumers in part because it set the minimum price as a 'floor' of what Amazon offered customers, 'meaning that participating sellers had limited, if any, ability to lower the price of their products without withdrawing the product' from the program.

    "Glenn Kuper, an Amazon spokesman, said in a statement that the effort had been 'small' and meant to 'provide another tool to help sellers offer lower prices.' While Amazon is 'glad to have this matter resolved,' he said, the company believes the program was legal. Amazon stopped offering Sold by Amazon in 2020 and under the agreement pledged to not offer it again."

    •  Axios reports that Starship Technologies "just introduced robot delivery service for students at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  Its fleet of 16 autonomous, on-demand robots will deliver food from ten eateries, 'to be delivered anywhere on campus, within minutes,' according to a press release."

    According to the story, "SMU faculty, staff and students, can use Starship's app to order food and drinks from Cinco Taco, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Panera Bread, Rollin' & Bowlin' Acai Bowls, Starbucks, etc.

    "Other campuses with Starship robots include Arizona State University, Purdue and George Mason."

    •  DesignTaxi reports that Aldi is testing age-estimation technology in a southeast London store, where "a machine-learning algorithm" scans the faces of people entering the store to see if they are old enough to buy restricted items, or if they should be carded.

    Yoti, the company that created the technology, "claims that its age assessment tool is more accurate than human checks, with an average accuracy of 2.2 years, while predictions for youths aged 16 to 20 are slightly more precise. A 2021 whitepaper by the platform noted that there’s only a 0.05% probability of a 17-year-old bypassing the system."

    The story points out that the technology is "not to be confused with facial recognition, as the system deletes the images and forgets about them soon after completing the process."

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    •  From CNBC:

    "A financial technology start-up that Walmart created and backed said Wednesday it is acquiring two more companies as it aims to build an all-in-one app where consumers can manage their money.

    "The combined company will be called ONE, the name of one of the firms that the fintech start-up is acquiring. It is also purchasing another fintech company, Even. Financial terms were not disclosed.

    "Walmart - the country’s largest private employer and biggest grocer - announced an effort last year to develop unique, affordable financial products that it could offer its millions of customers and employees."

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Indianapolis Star reports that "Hy-Vee, which operates around 285 stores across the Midwest, plans to open a store in Zionsville," a suburb of Indianapolis.

    It will be the company's first Indiana store;  late last year, it was reported that it planned to expand outside the Midwest for the first time, with plans to build seven new stores in Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, in 2023, as well as build a Tennessee distribution facility to service those units.

    According to the story, Hy-Vee's "plans call for a roughly 150,000-square-foot store at the 26-acre site."

    •  Brookshire Grocery Co. and Reasor’s LLC yesterday announced "the finalization of their agreement first announced in November. With the confirmed support from the Reasor’s Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP), Reasor’s stores are now a new division of BGC. These stores will continue to serve the greater Tulsa area under the Reasor’s name and with their incredible team. With Reasor's locations and more than 2,000 people team, BGC now has more than 200 stores with more than 19,000 employee-partners serving in four states."

    •  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "Costco Wholesale Corp. shareholders voted Thursday for a proposal that called on the retailer to set out plans to reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, in line with scientific recommendations to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The resolution included difficult-to-track emissions in Costco’s supply chain, known as Scope 3 emissions, which the company said were the 'overwhelming bulk' of its emissions.

    "The company’s board opposed the proposal. 'While we seek and will continue to seek to influence our suppliers to reduce their emissions, we cannot directly control their actions,' Costco said in its statement against the resolution.

    "Shareholder resolutions aren’t legally binding in the U.S., but they can put pressure on companies to make changes and raise the possibility that investors could vote to remove executives if they refuse to take action."

    •  CNBC reports that "Lowe’s will soon test a new offering: A Petco shop inside its stores where customers can buy dog food and cat litter, even visit with a vet, while shopping for paint and other supplies for home projects.

    "The two retailers announced a deal Thursday to pilot the store-in-store locations. The first one will open near San Antonio in early February, with 14 additional locations planned in Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina by the end of March.

    "The companies declined to share financial terms or the length of the deal."

    And just like that, retailers with pet food departments suddenly have new competition.

    •  The Washington Post reports that Amazon this week "endorsed legislation by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) to end the federal prohibition on pot … the first time it has backed a GOP-led bill on the issue."

    The story suggests that this has less to do with a desire to sell marijuana than a desire to "widen its applicant pool by helping to ease drug testing requirements and assist with employee retention."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Federal regulators proposed measures that would significantly increase their visibility into private-equity funds and some hedge funds, the first in a range of plans to expand oversight of private markets.

    "The Securities and Exchange Commission voted 3-1 to issue a proposal Wednesday that would increase the amount and timeliness of confidential information that private-equity and hedge funds report to the agency on a document known as Form PF. A main goal, Chairman Gary Gensler said, is to allow regulators to better understand the operations and strategies of private funds for purposes of gauging their implications for financial stability."

    This is interesting to me because of how many private equity funds invest in retailers.  I like it when institutions are forced to be transparent … especially where money is involved, I like to know where the money is coming from.

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    •  Food City announced that Sara Baldwin, most recently the company's finance senior manager, has been promoted to  the newly created position of director of finance and planning, which will make her part of the company’s senior staff executive leadership team.

    Published on: January 27, 2022

    Yesterday we took note of a Business Insider report that "Google's latest e-commerce push appears to be bearing fruit, as new data reveals that more people are starting their online shopping journeys using Google, taking valuable market share away from Amazon."

    One M NB reader responded:

    Doesn’t surprise me, I always go to Google first and find the “real” review“ before I purchase.  Too much junk on Amazon from 20 different providers of the same product with different brand names.

    MNB reader Steve Anvik connected this story to the question that I asked on the "Pivot" podcast about Amazon being potentially subjected to greater regulation of its approach to private label than traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers:

    I find inconsistencies.  Seems many are for breaking Amazon up, or severely regulating it, at the least.  Yet many people of the same persuasion give Google a pass.  I think both are invasive ‘species’, if we’re consistent.  One wants to know about your product and service purchases, the other wants inside your entire life.  Is that picking winners and losers, or some deeper idea which I’m not understanding.  Please educate us, KC.

    I can't speak for everyone, but I think it is fair to say that on "Pivot," hosts Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway don't feel that way, and I certainly don't … and regulatory/legislative impulses toward putting greater restrictions on technology companies seem as equally aimed at Google as Amazon.

    My question was Amazon-centric, but it could've been broader.  (I needed to pose it in 30 seconds or less.)

    I do think that your characterization of Amazon as wanting "to know about your product and service purchases," while Google "wants inside your entire life," may underestimate Amazon's ambitions.